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The Cubs offensive core is struggling, can they get back on track?

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A look at the offense before the Crosstown Classic

Javier Báez during a frustrating at bat against the Cardinals
Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

The Cubs have cooled off a bit after a blisteringly hot start. They are 5-5 over their last ten games. That is good enough for a four game lead in the NL Central but if the Cubs are going to roll into the playoffs there is room for improvement. They are actually currently overperforming their Pythagorean record by two wins.

One place where the Cubs have been a bit streaky is their offense. Specifically, a few of the Cubs power bats have hit the skids at the same time. You may not have noticed it because Ian Happ and Jason Heyward have been surging recently, which has covered the gap as you can see below:

Cubs offense last two weeks

Name PA HR RBI BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ EV
Name PA HR RBI BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ EV
Ian Happ 50 3 8 18.0% 30.0% .359 .476 .333 .469 .692 203 89.3
Jason Heyward 33 1 7 18.2% 18.2% .280 .421 .360 .485 .640 196 86.1
Anthony Rizzo 48 2 4 20.8% 18.8% .211 .222 .211 .375 .421 122 89.8
Kyle Schwarber 41 2 4 14.6% 41.5% .212 .429 .242 .390 .455 129 92.9
Steven Souza Jr. 10 1 3 10.0% 40.0% .444 .500 .333 .400 .778 206 96.3
Jason Kipnis 33 0 5 21.2% 36.4% .080 .357 .200 .364 .280 89 87.7
Victor Caratini 27 0 4 14.8% 22.2% .043 .353 .261 .370 .304 95 89.9
David Bote 31 1 8 6.5% 29.0% .107 .278 .214 .290 .321 70 95.2
Willson Contreras 44 0 2 20.5% 31.8% .031 .211 .125 .341 .156 57 92.9
Kris Bryant 28 1 1 3.6% 28.6% .115 .176 .154 .214 .269 32 77.3
Nico Hoerner 22 0 1 9.1% 22.7% .053 .214 .158 .273 .211 43 90.6
Javier Baez 45 0 1 4.4% 42.2% .071 .261 .143 .200 .214 13 92.6
Select offensive stats over the last two weeks Fangraphs

I’m going to bracket the Souza numbers for a second, because they are only based on 10 plate appearances and he’s on the Injured List. Happ and Heyward are currently carrying the Cubs offense but a quick glance at their BABIP makes it pretty clear those numbers are not sustainable. Frankly, Kyle Schwarber’s numbers look a bit unsustainable too. The only other batter with a wRC+ over 100 is Anthony Rizzo, whose BABIP actually indicates he’s getting a bit unlucky.

Every other player is struggling. A lot. It goes a long way to explaining this mystifying stat about the Cubs production with bases loaded going into the second game of their double header with the Cardinals:

Each of these slumps looks a bit different, however so I wanted to break down a few.

Kris Bryant

Bryant actually looked like he might have turned things around before a diving catch jammed his wrist a bit. He’s slumping, and to put this in perspective, this is his second worse stretch in the last two seasons:

Kris Bryant 15 game wOBA 2018-now
Fangraphs

And look, part of it is luck, but something else is also going on because his hard hit, exit velocity and whiff rates have sunk to the bottom of the league in 2020:

Bryant 2020 MLB percentiles
Statcast

Willson Contreras

My favorite player has always been a little streaky and 2020 is no exception. Willson started the season red hot and is currently in a pretty significant slump slashing .125/.341/.156 in the last two weeks. Let’s start with the good - he’s walking 20.5 percent of the time, which explains that OBP number but the hits are just not falling. I am much more confident that whatever is going on with Willson is simply bad luck looking at his Statcast percentiles:

Contreras 2020 MLB percentiles
Statcast

Contreras still has a lot of swing and miss in his game, but he’s absolutely crushing the baseball when he makes contact and he’s still getting on base a lot. Statcast expects him to break out of this funk any moment and frankly I do too.

Javier Báez

Another Cub known for a lot of swing and miss in his game is Javier Báez, unlike Willson he’s actually walking less than he has historically over the last two weeks. I really didn’t think it was possible for Javy to walk less, but the stats do not lie. Javy has walked 4.7 percent of the time over his career and 4.1 percent of the time in 2020.

The good news for Javy is that when he’s making contact he is still hitting the ball incredibly hard. The bad news is that he’s striking out 35.1 percent of the time in 2020 and an astounding 42.2 percent of the time in the last two weeks:

Báez 2020 MLB percentiles
Statcast

Javy seems intent on swinging his way out of this slump, but there is zero incentive for pitchers to give him anything to hit right now. He’s historically been an outlier on pitches out of the zone, so hopefully he’ll find that energy again, lower the strikeout rate a bit and make more solid contact.

Takeaways

If the Cubs are going to hold onto first place in the NL Central they need Javy, Willson and KB contributing more. Willson Contreras has traditionally broken out of slumps whenever he plays the White Sox, here’s hoping Javy and Bryant join him this series.